Zelensky’s Catastrophic “Compromise”

I have long been used to the fact that in the Ukrainian parliament it is possible to violate the regulations in any way, to put a draft law to the vote as many times in a row as it is necessary to force deputies to adopt it, to re-vote on laws at the request of a “I pressed the wrong button” deputy, and much more.

I thought I could no longer be surprised, but Zelensky and his “servants” managed. I honestly don’t understand how many “extraordinary” sessions of parliament they held on Monday (two, three, or four).

The day ended with the adoption of various laws at two successive “extraordinary” sessions, but the most important ones failed: on an appointment to vacant seats of the Minister of Healthcare and the Minister of Finance, on budget sequestration, on prohibition to return nationalised banks to their former owners (the so-called anti-Kolomoisky law), and on lifting the moratorium on the free sale of agricultural land.

And suddenly by morning all these problems were miraculously solved.

The question about sessions of Parliament is not a useless one. The Land Law was supposed to be adopted not at an “emergency” session of the Verkhovna Rada, but at a regular one, but they are now suspended due to quarantine. “Opposition Platform – For Life” (Medvedchuk/Rabinovich) has already announced its intention to seek the opinion of the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the process of adoption of this law. But I don’t think it’ll be able to cancel it.

Firstly, it is not very desirable, because in “Opposition Platform – For Life” itself there are enough people who can extract a specific material benefit from the free sale of land.

Secondly, even assuming that all the deputies of the faction sincerely oppose the law in a single impulse, the Constitutional Court will be under severe pressure from the authorities and foreign partners. And the Ukrainian Constitutional Court knows how to make politically correct decisions. After all, judges, even agreeing to the unconstitutional procedure of adoption, may state that this does not overturn the constitutionality of the law itself. The Constitutional Court also has the opportunity to decide that the Rada, as the highest legislative body, itself determines the procedure for the adoption of specific laws, and the decision to lift the moratorium on the free sale of agricultural land does not really contradict the Constitution.

Thirdly, this same “Opposition Platform – For Life” voted for the appointment of Healthcare Minister Maksim Stepanov, who at one time paid bail for the Nazi and killer Sergey Sternenko, and who allowed the latter to be released and still avoid trial. From a reputational point of view, this is much worse than “failing” to repeal the land law.

However, as was mentioned above, technical procedural problems are solved in Ukraine in accordance with the current expediency (the Rada at one time even managed to make a decision to make Yanukovych resign, motivated by his “self-withdrawal” from presidential duties, while there was no evidence of “self-withdrawal” and just at that point Yanukovych was still trying somehow to exercise his presidential powers, though briefly and unsuccessfully.

Much more important than all procedural issues, as well as the content of the adopted laws, is the new composition of Ukrainian political forces, which was formed during the last vote in the Rada. The situational allies were Poroshenko (“European Solidarity”), Vakarchuk (“Golos”) and Zelensky (most of the “Servants of the People” faction – parts of it are maintained by Akhmetov and Pinchuk). On the other side of the barricades there is Kolomoisky (group “For the Future” and individual deputies), Medvedchuk/Rabinovich (“Opposition Platform – For Life”), and Tymoshenko (“Batkivshchina”). Once again, in less than a year of Zelensky’s presidency, the Ukrainian political landscape has changed dramatically.

At the same time, it cannot be unequivocally stated (as some do) that Zelensky definitively fell out with Kolomoisky. I again stress that the established alliances are temporary, situational, and extremely fragile. In particular, the people of Kolomoisky voted for a number of “anti-crisis” draft laws of Zelensky that were adopted during Monday’s “extraordinary” sessions. Medvedchuk and Tymoshenko are not hindered by the “anti-Kolomoisky” banking law, they co-operate with Kolomoisky only concerning the land law, which in general does not contradict the interests of Kolomoisky.

On the other hand, Zelensky mobilises the votes of the Poroshenko and Vakarchuk factions, but they do not get representation in power – and Akhmetov strengthens his positions there. Rumours that Poroshenko received guarantees from criminal prosecution are just rumours. No one has pursued him for a whole year, and it’s unlikely that Zelensky decided to offend Poroshenko against the background of pending negotiations with the IMF. In addition, the question arises: what was promised to Vakarchuk, who is not especially interested in political problems and is engaged exclusively in his concert activities? The Vakarchuk and Poroshenko factions could not help but vote for the “anti-Kolomoisky” and land laws – they would not be understood by their foreign partners, who could bring much more trouble than all the Ukrainian government structures combined.

It can be stated that Zelensky lost not only the parliamentary majority, but also control over the faction. Now these are not his “servants”, but groups orientated towards Kolomoisky, Akhmetov, and Soros/Pinchuk. In turn, Akhmetov secured dominance in the government, where, however, representatives of Kolomoisky and Soros/Pinchuk also remained. Avakov, who indeed controls the situation in the country, in this case has kept his neutrality. His Nazis only indicated their dissatisfaction via a poorly attended demonstration (for show).

Kolomoisky’s position is not as weak as it may seem at first glance. The point here is not that he will now rush to put together a new block of discontent persons that will allow to flip the situation in his favour and abolish the “anti-Kolomoisky” and land laws. The fact is that the laws have been adopted to obtain funding from the IMF, but the Ukrainian leadership does not trust the Fund, and the Fund does not trust the Ukrainian leadership. Therefore, the principled land law should enter into force only in 2021, and Kiev wants to receive $5-7 billion from the IMF this year, and the faster, the better. Meanwhile, the IMF has repeatedly faced a situation where Kiev, having received money, refused to fulfil its obligations. Especially since the adopted version of the law does not fully correspond to the wishes of the IMF, which insisted on opening the land market to foreigners this year.

On the other hand, the Kiev authorities, used to deceiving everyone, fear that if they fully satisfy the demands of the Fund and the law comes into force this year in the varient required by the IMF, the Fund will immediately stop (under a plausible pretext) issuing the next tranches after the entry into force of the law. At the same time, the Fund is trying to limit the tranches that are supposed be issued before the law comes into force to $3 billion, which is completely unacceptable for Kiev, because it does not solve its problems.

Kolomoisky, of course, will try to play on this mistrust, inflate contradictions, and eventually block agreements between Kiev and the IMF. If he will succeed, then the meaning of the “anti-Kolomoisky” law will disappear, and the law on land in the current version should suit Kolomoisky in general – perhaps there will be just need to introduce an amendment in terms of time and to correct some execution technique so that the Ukrainian oligarchy is guaranteed to have time to buy up the most attractive lands for nothing, and then sell them expensively to foreigners (including those whose agricultural holdings have long worked in Ukraine).

If Zelensky and the IMF do not reach an agreement (and such a possibility exists), Kolomoisky’s idea of declaring a default may be in demand. Judging by the perseverance of its promotion, Kolomoisky long ago invented a scheme of earning money in conditions of a default and, unlike fellow oligarchs, not only is he not afraid of it, but he is ready to welcome it.

So the realities of spider life in the jar will give us many more interesting moments before they reap each other. Recall: more recently, Kolomoisky and Akhmetov together shot down the government of Goncharuk, controlled by Pinchuk/Soros. Already today Akhmetov, in alliance with Pinchuk/Soros, successfully opposes Kolomoisky. Who will be with whom tomorrow and who will be pushed is absolutely unpredictable.

And I will remind you that Avakov is sitting in an ambush – he is satisfied with everything as long as there is no unity in the Ukrainian oligarchy and there isn’t a strong government in the country that can question the unconstitutional influence of the Minister of Internal Affairs and simply fire him. The excessive strengthening of any group will encourage Avakov to act to curtail its capabilities, similar to what he did against Poroshenko long before the 2019 presidential election and Zelensky’s appearance in the political arena. But, despite all his power, there may be methods that can be used against Avakov, if, of course, Ukraine still has politicians capable of looking for them.

So far, Zelensky’s compromise with Pinchuk/Soros (represented in the Rada by Vakarchuk’s “Golos”), with Poroshenko, and with Akhmetov has sharply weakened his domestic political position – due to the overflow of control over the parliamentary majority from the hands of the presidential office to the hands of the oligarchy. This same compromise made Zelensky totally dependent on the IMF. If the Fund will not give money or will give not enough of it, all efforts to push forward unpopular laws will be meaningless and even harmful, because there are already image losses, and whether or not someday there will be money, and if yes, in what quantity, is unknown.

In general, if earlier Zelensky controlled the mechanisms of power but did not know how to use them, then now he does not know how to use them and does not control them. He turned from a cardboard doll into a shadow on the wallpaper of Ukrainian politics.

Rostislav Ishchenko

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